On July 23, 2011, I recited these design stories at the Boston Globe for my friends at Ink, stories inspired by the work of Frederick Law Olmsted and the impact his legacy has had on my life in particular, and three American cities – Seattle, DC, and Baltimore – in general. Each story takes place in a natural urban setting influenced or designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. This is the eighth essay in a collection of eight.
Gwynn’s Falls is verdant and lush. Like velvet, velour, cashmere, draped over rolling hills, misted onto trees. U2’s Bono himself said Maryland reminded him of Ireland when he flew over Charm City last month. I was there at M&T Stadium. Heard him say it with my own ears. I guess that’s why the Irish Catholics liked it so much.
I’ve lived in Baltimore for more than two years now. I can walk to the neighborhoods that constitute the meeting rooms and the crack houses and the drug corners spawned by the failed drug war in ten minutes. I drive through blocks and blocks of boarded-up rowhouses to Gwynn’s Falls when I take the dogs out for runs.
The paths are peaty and wide. That way to the mansion, over the ridge to the mill. Mostly though, we head up the trail, crossing Dead Run to the nature center. Flashed white of a doe’s tail. Oslo, Mies, stay! I know you were bred to hunt large game, but you’re never gonna catch that deer. It’s like a spa in these woods. Fresh smells, muted sounds, heaven on earth.
I drive past half the city’s unemployed, destitute black men, incarcerated in West Baltimore. Sitting rejected on once-grand marble steps in the middle of the day, the middle of the work week. Shackled to a vast urban wasteland created by centuries of discrimination, failed social policies, and systems design failure on a massive scale.
Shaded bliss along the trailhead at Windsor Mill Road, she was walking her little boy. I was reading the placards on the trail which described the history of the park, realizing at that very moment that I loved Frederick Law Olmsted, despite the age difference between us. She was black, I was white. Are your dogs friendly? Yes, I said. Oslo, Mies, say hello. Hello to a new friend, hello to new stories.